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Hamlet Nunnery Scene Analysis

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    I think the the adaptation of the nunnery scene by Kenneth Branagh was the most effective of the ones we viewed, for through its symbolic use of setting, its inclusion of the complete Hamlet text, and the emphasis placed on the shifts in tone between the young lovers Hamlet and Ophelia, it incorporates subtleties of theme and meaning of the original play, which other adaptation fail to convey. The main reason why Branagh’s adaptation, according to me, was the most successful was because he tried to stay as faithful as possible to the original text, deciding not to omit any dialogue whatsoever.

    By cutting out lines, the other directors manipulate openly the play, thus not providing a faithful adaptation, but rather a subjective interpretation. The Branagh adaptation thus brings the viewer closer to Shakespeare’s play by eliminating the middle man, and not trying to make the play more “accessible” or “entertaining”, but rather giving the viewer the benefit of building their own interpretation of the complex play of Hamlet, instead of being spoon-fed. For example, I enjoyed the fact that Branagh was the only one to include Ophelia’s soliloquy after Hamlet storms off.

    This addition made the scene longer, but was crucial to the understanding of Ophelia as a complex character, and not just as a stock figure, for we gain access to her own perspective on the facts, and learn about how she is guilty, tormented for being forced to choose between her father and her fiancee. This scene also foreshadows her eventual descent into madness, culminating in suicide, which otherwise would come more as an odd surprise. Also, this adaptation includes visually the stage directions of Shakespeare, according to which Polonius is hiding behind a drape, assisting to the whole scene.

    Branagh has a quick cut from the scene between Ophelia and Hamlet, to Polonius, seen reflected in one of the mirrors in the scene – thus we are introduced to another perspective behind the action. I believe Branagh effectively portrayed the shifts in tone of the two characters. The scene started with a passionate kiss between the lovers, thus suggesting a previously affectionate, harmonious relationship of budding love. During Hamlet’s speech, Branagh starts talking with a delicate, soothing tone, and a loving expression. The first “get thee to a unnery” is hushed, but a momentum sets in as the suspicion arises, and his tone becomes more and more intense and insistent, as his movements become more tense and anger-fueled, until reaching a climax as he pushes Ophelia and accuses her of betraying him. This ascending climax suggests how Ophelia’s betrayal and Hamlet’s paranoia destroyed a young love, thus rendering the conflict more tragic. The other adaptations instead started the nunnery scene already with a tense, cold atmosphere, thus shedding a negative light on Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship as a whole.

    While some members of my English class found the use of setting, lighting and props distracting, I thought it was a well chosen tool to suggest themes present throughout the whole play. In the most violent scene as Hamlet drags Ophelia through the grand hall pushing her up against a sequence of mirrors and swinging them open to check if anyone is spying on them. This action’-filled scene is not explicitly directed in the play, but it accurately portrays the increasing levels of paranoia and distrust Hamlet is experiencing.

    Also, the many mirrors, each portraying a different facet of Hamlet and his fiancee, suggest the theme of identity and duplicity of the play, in which there is a gap between reality and appearance. Furthermore, the use of setting made Hamlet appear like the prince that he is, thus leading one to be drawn into the setting of the story, while some of the more bare, purist scenes remind the viewer all to well that we are assisting to a play, and that the characters are truly actors. The only criticism I have is in the casting choice of Hamlet.

    I think he should not have portrayed Hamlet himself, but rather have chosen a younger actor. Branagh was very attentive to Hamlet’s changing state of mind, and shifted his tone accordingly, but I did not find his portrayal very believable because he is was too mature to play Hamlet, who is in his early twenties. Both in terms of aesthetics and character, he is not believable because he cannot portray a young man learning how to take responsibility and become a man, for he already is too confident, developed. Therefore, the coming of age dimension of Shakespeare’s play is lost in this adaptation.

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